THE CHALLENGE

Challenges faced by the Department of Education regarding the effective implementation of Robotics and Coding in Public Schools.

It’s great that South Africa has decided to roll out coding nationally. But the complexity is that the foundations are not in place for effective implementation. Dr Mmaki Jantjies, a senior lecturer at the University of the Western Cape’s Department of Information Systems, cites five core elements that need to be in place for effective rollout. These include:

  • infrastructure,
  • teacher training and support,
  • localised learning content,
  • technical support, and
  • safety and security

To provide a good foundation in digital skills, computers have to be available on the school premises together with the relevant IT infrastructure and internet connectivity. This translates effectively into having an IT department at the school that can manage the equipment, keep it up and running and be able to support teachers and learners when problems arise. This requirement translates directly into a cost factor that is not a once-off investment, but rather a regular addition to the annual budget in the form of a recurrent cost item.

The second challenge involves teachers and a curriculum. Teacher training is expensive and currently teachers don’t learn how to code. To develop an integrated and sustainable curriculum, it will be essential to reflect on the current requirements for teachers, and to understand how they are trained.

Another challenge of making coding and robotics a regular subject at school is time. In an already crowded timetable, which subject do we remove or allocate less time to? Do learners have to spend more time at school? In the UK, a solution was found by integrating digital skills into other subjects.

In South Africa coding and robotics will be introduced through the existing technology subject taught until Grade 9, or through a new subject called “digital skills”.

The curriculum is expected to provide learners with the necessary knowledge and skills to become “inventors of new technologies to make a valuable contribution towards the global community”.

What are the risks if school children don’t attain this skill at the basic education level?

The need for coding is becoming ubiquitous. In the same way that employees are currently expected to have the ability to read, write and count, in the near future there will be an expectation to have the literacy of coding. This will allow learners to harness the power of computers.

Right now, the most sought after careers are in the IT space. From the retail sector to financial institutions, our world is becoming digital. Online shopping, online banking, online TV watching – the risk of not being able to attain the skill of coding will be a risk of not attaining a job.

In addition to this problem of implementing coding as a subject in public schools, South Africa has more problems when it comes to education.

The reason that we teach Social Emotional Learning (SEL) through Robotics and Coding is not that learners who live in poor communities have a wrong mindset or wrong and insufficient technical abilities. The problem is that more than 6 million South African children live in poverty. And with that said, these are some of the educational challenges that learners in poor communities’ face:

The 3 basic R’s of Education

Learners are coming out of school without the the 3 basic R’s of education that is the ability to Read, wRite and aRithmetics.

Increased Grade Repetition

As learners advance through the school system, levels of grade repetition increase – particularly in the latter years of high school.

The Fear Of Mathematics

A large proportion of learners around South Africa share , no matter where they go to school, it is a fear of maths.

Teacher Development

Inadequate teacher professional development by the education department.

The Culture of Reading

South African learners do not have a culture of reading and lack the motivational push to learn from their community and families

Learners from poor communities

Many learners in South African townships and rural areas come from families affected by poverty, hunger and parents with little or no education themselves.

Resulting a lost generation of learners who are not educated nor working because of the state of South Africa’s inadequate education.

Please note that there are lots of other challenges that are facing the South African Education as a whole, but the one’s we mentioning here are the ones which we feel confident that, in time, we can solve!

OUR SOLUTION

  • Infrastructure

Edupstairs is a small non-profit organization and we teach Social Emotional Learning (SEL) through Robotics and Coding to learners who live in underprivileged communities. We do not have our own infrastructure to accommodate our learners as yet, but we will in the future. Currently we take our learning materials and tools, i.e. Mobile STEM Labs, Computers (Laptops), projectors and all stationery to the above mentioned schools and teach our learners the science of Social Emotional Learning through Robotics and Coding. We do this every Saturday and every school holidays except for December holidays.

  • Teacher training and support

Teachers that support their learners and make them feel safe and respected; these are teachers who push their learners to do their best work. Both our intuition as teachers and educational research finds that the relationship between a teacher and a learner is crucial for learner engagement, motivation and ultimately success in school.

At Edupstairs we have designed Growth Mindset Activities, a comprehensive grade R – 9 Curriculum for Robotics and Coding and also Social Emotional Learning Activities for teachers. A portion of our Team members are conducting these teacher training workshops on Saturdays.

Fostering a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in learners must be a priority for all teachers, but sometimes teachers themselves operate with a fixed mindset or lack of SEL thereof.

Who can’t think of some stalwart teachers and administrators who refuse to change, are stuck in their practice, or reject new ideas? Just as we teach our learners to continuously improve, grow, learn, and change, so must we as teachers.

  • Localised learning content

At Edupstairs we believe that localization of E-learning content and learning materials is important since it can reach more people in more languages, hence improving communications for greater understanding and retention. Localization is very important when providing a digital learning environment. We have not yet translated any of our learning materials to any other language. But it is our aim to make sure that happens in the future.

Solution to Educational challenges for learners in underprivileged communities

Fostering Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Through Robotics and Coding (STEM)

BUT WHAT IS SEL and STEM?

Social-emotional learning refers to a child’s abilities to express and manage emotions, and to establish positive relationships with others. Core skills include the abilities to:

  • understand and manage one’s own feelings and behaviors
  • read and comprehend the emotional states of others
  • develop empathy for others
  • establish and maintain healthy relationships with peers and adults

The development of these skills critically influences the ways kids will function at home, in school, and in their community – even as adults. This is why as Edupstairs we try to encourage many schools to prioritize on creating classroom and school environments that respect differing viewpoints, encourage and support one another, and are considerate of individual wants and needs. So it should come as no surprise that project-based learning (PBL) and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) done right may support healthy social-emotional development.

Supporting STEM through exploratory project-based learning allows for learners to:

  • express and communicate their unique thoughts and ideas with others
  • take calculated risks and be confident in their decisions
  • be open to feedback and iteration
  • manage frustration with “failures” during iteration
  • give feedback to others in a constructive and encouraging way
  • learn how to communicate effectively when working in groups
  • communicate group findings to peers and adults (teachers)

As with all subject areas, STEM (particularly Robotics and Coding) should be taught as an interdisciplinary subject that supports and strengthens learning across the school curriculum. What’s unique about teaching STEM with hands-on learning is that it inherently encourages social-emotional development under clear guidance, modelling, and supervision.

To truly support learners’ social-emotional growth through STEM instruction, repeated, consistent exposure to these opportunities is crucial. Our suggestion to schools and teachers is to create a consistent schedule for teaching engineering (while integrating PBL), instead of holding isolated sprints of “STEM learning” occasionally during the school year. STEM could be taught daily, weekly, or in parallel with an overlapping science unit. The consistency will not only give learners the space to practice the above skills, but it will also help shape a classroom or school culture that is more respectful, diverse in thought, and resilient through repetitions.

A peek of what our learners will build, code and program...

Curious to see our curriculum in action? See what A Typical Day looks like at EdUpStairs.

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